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  - A nice, large example of a Tang Dynasty Pottery Figure of a Prancing Horse
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A nice, large example of a Tang Dynasty Pottery Figure of a Prancing Horse

China, 618-907

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Reference : 10126
Price on request
Earthenware with painted decoration
H 60 x L 43 cm

Condition: Genarally good, considerable white and red pigments remain, some black and green, also some earthen deposits. Light paint chipping, right ear resattached, legs all reattached.

TLTest: QED Laboratoire, reference QED1818/FC-0101
The dancing horse is portrayed in movement, standing on three long legs, just before going forward , all mucles tense and alert. The suspended moment represents for the chineses the acme of this dancing art, the most interesting and aesthetic one : the right foreleg is raised, slightly turned to the right, when the head is turned to the the left, mouth open and ears high and alert. The body is strong and muscular, the arched neck highlights the movement of his head, bent slightly forwards . It's a very dynamic sculpture, made also with attention to details. Real horse hair was inserted into the open ridge running the length of the neck to figure the mane and into the tail.
He is decorated with a modelled and painted red saddle. The body of the horse is white slipped, with vast amounts still remaining. Additional pigments, such as red, green and black, have been used to pick out details, such as the alert pupils, the blanket, the nostrils and hoofs.
The largest of prancing horses made during the Tang Dynasty comes from the Fongxian area of Shangxi Province in North Central China. These horses display, like ours, strong neck, aquiline head with fine nose and beautifully defined and rounded bodies. Notice that this example is very large in comparaison with the ones displayed in museums. He is not standing on a plinth and reaches the 60cm high, when the highest, with plinths are 54 to 56cm high.

During the reign of Xuanzong ( 712-756), a special troupe of 100 horses was trained to perform and dance for the pleasure of the Emperor in order to wish him a Long Life. The imperial birthday celebration, named "Thousand-Autumn Holiday"(qian qiu jie), was including military presentations, dances, music, exotic animals viewing, but the highlight was the performance of 100 trained dancing horses. According to Zhang Yuo - a scholar and leading court official -, the performance, accompanied with music and lyrics was "heavenly":
" the horses turned and twirled round as if in flight"
" Curvetting in company, their conformation evoques transfigured dragons and fishes;
In promenade prancing, their vigor concentrates a whole column of birds and beasts.(...)
Light and lightly, they come as companions, soaring on felicitous clouds"
While Xuanzong's dancing horses are the most famous, they were not the first. During Tang Dynastie, his uncle Zhongzong, who reigned shortly (705-710) had a similar team of dancing horses, and this tradition is noted since 458. These dancing horses were related to "heavenly horses" or "Dragon horses", due to the belief in the powers of the dragon horse to bestow immortality upon its rider. It's said that chineses made the discovery of such a magical horse during the reign of Xuanzong. The "Thousand-Autumn Holiday"of Xuanzong, like national Holiday, was initiating a tradition that lasted two centuries.

This dancing horse is representing one of these so famous trained dressage horses taught to dance for Xuanzong Emperor, whishing him long life. As sign of status and wealth, this horse was probably originally interred in a Tang dynasty high ranking burial and was believed to bestow immortality on the occupant, as he is believed to bestow long life to his owner.

In 1972, similarly postured horses were excavated from the tomb of of Zhang Shigui (d. 657), comparable examples can also be found in Collections of the Musée Guimet Paris, Gift of J. Polain, ( MA 6112 and MA 6113), in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (No: 67.62.2), ...
Provenance: French Private Collection, Paris, acquired in the early 1980's.
Literature: J. Polain, Passion pour l'Asie. Une collection européenne, Louvain la Neuve, 1992
Chine, des chevaux et des hommes, donation J. Polain, catalogue 19 octobre 1995 - 15 janvier 1996

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